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NASEM Workshop Focuses on Promotion, Tenure, and Advancement

By: Jacqueline Robinson-Hamm
Thursday, October 14, 2021

In September, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) held a virtual workshop on their ongoing project “Promotion, Tenure, and Advancement through the Lens of 2020: The Next Normal.” Webinars and discussion sections explored issues pertaining to leadership and culturerecruitment, retention, and support; and advancement of tenure and nontenure track faculty.

The leadership and culture session highlighted two key questions: who gets to be a leader and why? In academia, leaders are typically chosen from the rank of full professor, which is well documented to be the least diverse body of faculty. Additionally, rising to the rank of full professor does not necessarily require intentional development of leadership skills. The concept of culture was also highlighted, noting that typically when culture is discussed the default is the “normative” majority white culture.

Specific examples of recruitment and retention best practices were provided but, overall, the theme emphasized was the need to actively listen to colleagues. Evidence of the environment and impetus to change can come from a conversation and action should not require quantitative, statistically significant data. This becomes crucial when considering colleagues with intersecting identities, where they may be the only one in their department holding those identities and experiencing the local culture through that lens. Small sample sizes cannot be an excuse to ignore realities faced by historically excluded faculty.

Regarding tenure, multiple speakers stressed the disconnect between academia’s stated values and the criteria for promotion and tenure. Largely, institutions of higher education affirm their commitment to mentoring, engaging with the local community, and inclusive teaching; yet majority of the weight for promotion and tenure is scholarship, which is often boiled down to number of publications and amount of grant dollars.

Nontenure track faculty in the United States make up more than half of all faculty, including approximately 50 percent of the total faculty at research universities. Yet, nontenure track faculty often have no say in faculty governance, little to no professional development support, and sometimes do not have access to basic needs such as space on campus for office hours. Many efforts to ease the strain of the pandemic, such as automatic tenure clock extensions, did nothing for this large body of faculty across the country.

NASEM commissioned seven papers for this project that are forthcoming. Recordings of each presentation and subsequent discussion are available on the individual topic webpages.